For all intents and purposes, You'll Like My Mother (1972) is an early 70s television movie of the week thriller… except that it's not really. It received a theatrical release. With the exception of the subject matter for one particular scene, though, there's no reason I know that it shouldn't have been made for the small screen instead of the big screen. The casting of Patty Duke and Richard Thomas is one of the reasons it has that made-for-TV sheen.
Duke plays Francesca Kinsolving, a pregnant widow that travels to Minnesota to meet her dead husband's mother (Rosemary Murphy.) She doesn't want anything from her, even though when she arrives, she learns there's a sizable estate of which she's probably entitled a piece. She selflessly wants to provide the woman an opportunity to get to know her grandchild, but Mrs. Kinsolving is worried about her taking a piece of the estate, and wants to be rid of her.
That's not only the set-up, that's practically the entire story. A thriller like this needs a lot of twists and turns, and while I suppose they're here, they're not executed very well. Mostly they're delivered uneventfully with no buildup of suspense. In other words, it's subtle. Some viewers may prefer this over heavy-handed manipulation, but I happen to believe the more contrived the circumstances, the more melodrama you need.
Screenwriter Jo Heims also wrote Play Misty for Me (1971), so she should know a thing or two about good thrillers. Perhaps, then, the source material, the novel by Naomi A. Hintze, is responsible for the movie's lack of "oomph." The name of the director, Lamont Johnson, is familiar, but guess why? It's because he directed a lot of… TV movies. (I'm not criticizing TV movies, mind you, especially 1970s movies of the week.)
One of the intended plot twists, I'm assuming, is the appearance of Richard Thomas well past the halfway mark. He plays Kenny, Francesca's husband's cousin… I think. (The roots of the family tree are intertwined in ways that aren't always clear.) You'll Like My Mother was made at the beginning of, perhaps before, his run as John-Boy on the popular television series, The Waltons (1971-78.) He plays against type as a psychopathic brat.
His scenes at least give the movie life. There should have been more of them. While it sounds like I didn't like You'll Like My Mother, that isn't strictly true. It's OK. For an era, though, that gave us an embarrassment of riches in the suspense/thriller genre, it's definitely at the bottom of the pile. I've mentioned television movies a number of times, This one may have worked better on TV, especially with commercial breaks every fifteen minutes to distract us.
Written by Jo Heims
Novel by Naomi A. Hintze
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Starring Patty Duke, Rosemary Murphy, Richard Thomas, Sian Barbara Allen RT 92 min.
Home Video Shout Factory (Blu-ray)
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